There is always a landscape within the landscape and that’s a beautiful thing.
There is always a landscape within the landscape and that’s a beautiful thing.
That is a question a team of biologists have been asking for quite some time and, as is typical in science, the answer was not what they first expected. Previous studies conducted by this same laboratory concluded that coot parents preferentially feed chicks that display brighter coloration. The goal of the present study was to determine why this was the case.
The researchers noted that coots lay between 8-10 eggs and these eggs hatch in the order they were laid. Additionally coots are nest predators and lay eggs in other coots nests. One hypothesis was that the chicks hatched from predatory eggs were the more brightly colored chicks and thus would have gotten fed more. This turned out to be false. The researchers discovered that the chicks hatched from the latter laid eggs were the more brightly colored. Typically chicks hatched latter in a brood have to catch-up to their larger siblings if they are to survive. The researcher noted that if these smaller and brightly colored latecomers survived the parents would use their coloration as a way to preferentially feed these chicks more and allow them to catch-up to their earlier siblings. 2
A wonderful survial strategy reveled in a nicely done study. Hat’s off to science and to the coot.
1. University of California – Santa Cruz. “The mysterious case of the ornamented coot chicks has a surprising explanation: The bright colors of the chicks of American coots help their parents choose favorites, according to a new study.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 December 2019. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191231111817.htm.
2. Bruce E. Lyon, Daizaburo Shizuka. Extreme offspring ornamentation in American coots is favored by selection within families, not benefits to conspecific brood parasites. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2019; 201913615 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1913615117
Yes it’s winter and for most of us in the Northern Hemisphere butterflies are few and far between this time of year. However summer will arrive soon enough and the skies will once again graced with these butterflies large and small.
Butterflies are vital pollinators and their populations strongly affected by climate change. Research funding to study how climate change amongst other things effects butterflies is in short supply so researchers have created an online platform called E-Butterfly which allow individuals to log their butterfly sightings and photos into a database much like the platform E-Bird used by many in the birding community.
A recent interview with entomologist Kathleen Prudic the co-director of E-Butterfly was published in the Conversation. The data entered into E-Butterfly is used for numerous research projects including butterfly conservation and much like the data used on E-Bird can be used to visualize the migration of several butterfly species. E-Butterfly also contains informative articles any butterfly enthusiast would find interesting to read. It is a great way for us all to get involved in conservation and another addition to the ever expanding role of citizen science in conservation research.
Browsing the site is a fine way to spend a minute or two on a dreary winter day.
And for more information on Citizen Science visit Citizen Science. org
We don’t know about you but we tend to get over ambitious at times with books, especially reading them. Five or six books sitting proudly on the coffee table in living room each with a bookmark placed about 1/3 into the book. Each book calling your name when you plop down on the sofa to relax. You sit and stare back at them silently wondering how you will finish them all before they are due at the library. You get through one or two wonderful books but always feel like your not reading enough as you solemnly remove the bookmarks form the remaining three and whisk them off and into the return slot at the library. So this year it’s only one book at a time- from front to back- all the way though.
We recently came across a wonderful four part series on the best nature books of 2019 written by the Chicago Review of Books
. It is a very diverse list of nature books that will provide us some guidance in choosing and reading our one-book-at-a time in 2020.
Here are links to each of the four posts. The author of the articles Amy Brady stated in the part four of this series that this year has been the best in recent memory for nature writing. Looking though the lists is almost as fun as reading the books listed.
Anything catch your eye as a first read from these lists. Maybe because it’s winter and darkness comes early the book Dark Skies: a journey into the wild night By Tiffany Francis-Baker sounds like it might be first up this year.
As this decade comes to a close we ran across an interesting statistic produced by the Royal Statistical Society in the UK. In fact it was the societies statistic of the decade and one that is nothing to write home about-deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
The estimated accumulated deforestation of the Amazon being equivalent to around 8.4 million football pitches or about 24,000 square miles. In a decade!
A recent article in the Conversation provides further insight into this statistic describing some of the more obvious consequences of this deforestation and rebutting arguments that conversion of the rainforest to ranching, resource extraction and farming is required for economic benefits of nations and the people within those nations. In fact there is data to suggest that if left alone the economic benefits of the amazon rainforest outweigh its destruction for short-term profits. However, another recent article suggests the worst is yet to come in the deforestation of the Amazon. With the cost of reforestation at over $2,000 an acre cost alone, not to mention political forces, make restoration less likely day by day.
The amazon rainforest has been called the lungs of the earth breathing in carbon dioxide and stabilizing the earth’s climate and exhaling oxygen-oxygen that fuels life animal life in all its myriad forms.
A grim statistic to have won the honor of statistic of the decade but one we ought to heed as we move forward into the next.
It is hard to appreciate this fact for us living far from the Amazon in places already striped of natural landscapes. However, when we drive past a once fertile farm field just down the road now being plowed over for a new round of strip malls we get an inkling of what the future holds. A planet impoverished for the enrichment of a few, until it all falls apart.
Perhaps the statistic of the next decade in 2030 will something like this “the decade humanity work together to solve the climate crisis for the good of all”.I know it’s not really a statistic but we will be able to quantify the results and turn that into the next statistic of the decade.
“Optimism can be in short supply when it comes to wildlife and conservation.
Going on describe several events that are disconcerting to those who consider conservation a worthy cause including the following events:
Masai giraffes were declared endangered, fires in the Amazon devastated jaguars, turtles, and other wildlife, and cheetah researchers accused of spying were sentenced to years in prison in Iran. Demand for wildlife and wildlife products—such as pet turtles, lion bone, and shatoosh, scarves made from the fleece of rare Tibetan antelopes—is thought to be on the rise”
Conversely and giving us a bit of hope the main focus of the article presents several key victories in the conservation of species and preservation of wildlife around the globe. Another article that both gives hope yet points that there is still no reason take pause in the fight for conservation of non-human life on the planet.
Rare is common?
A recent report published in Science Advances suggests that up to 40% of plant species are actually very rare and these rare species are extremely vulnerable to extinction via climate change as well as destruction of native ecosystems for human land use.
In the introduction to the paper the authors state:
“Why some species are common and others are rare has intrigued ecologists at least, since Darwin. Rare species are orders of magnitude more likely to go extinct, making it puzzling how so many rare species can be maintained.”
To make their conclusions thirty-five research teams form over 20 institutions complied 20 million observational records of plants from around the globe. Their analysis revealed over 435,00 plant species with about 36.5% being classified are rare.
The rare species were clustered in regions around the globe that through time have had more stable climates especially during the planets last ice-age. These rare plant hotspots included regions of the Northern Andes, Costa Rica, Madagascar and regions of Southeast Asia. However as the planet warms and the ever present march of human conversion of land for agriculture, housing and tourism continues these rare plant regions are threatened.
The authors state that:
A very interesting report and a short summary can be found at Science Daily.
While none of these photos depict rare plants, or so I think, these are the types of places rare plants might live.
What will be lost when we only have the common left?
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A new study reported on in Science Daily suggests that complex decision making occurs in at least one single celled organism. 1
Perhaps our first thoughts when considering single celled organisms is that they are primitive relics of the past with simple physiologies and perhaps only programmed behaviors. However we must consider the simple fact that for several billions of years single cell organisms lived and thrived on the planet and evolved into innumerable species and eventually into multicellular organisms.
Recently a team of researches at Harvard Medical School replicated a century old experiment demonstrating that Stentor roeselii exhibits a complex hierarchy of avoidance behaviors. The evolutionary advantage for the development of this complex avoidance behavior in Stentor roeselii can only be hypothesized but the authors offer this speculation in the paper:
“Such behavioral complexity may have had an evolutionary advantage in protist ecosystems, and the ciliate cortex may have provided mechanisms for implementing such behavior prior to the emergence of multicellularity.” 2
This is an interesting article not only for demonstrating that life, in all it’s forms, may exhibit behaviors we have yet to document but also for the fact that there may be great scientific value in replicating other forgotten studies from decades past.
Additionally, studies like this one make it clearer that all life is indeed life — and that– is something worth pondering.
Our world is vast and much is still to be discovered and described by science.
A recent article published in Science Daily reports on the discovery of 71 new species by researchers at the California Academy of Sciences in 2019. The article provides a nice overview of the species discovered and includes the following quote remaining us that there is much work to do to identify what we have on this wonderful planet. A nice short read if you can find the time.
“Despite decades of tirelessly scouring some of the most familiar and remote places on Earth,” says Shannon Bennett, PhD, and Academy Chief of Science, “biodiversity scientists estimate that more than 90% of nature’s species remain unknown. A rich diversity of plants and animals is what allows life on our planet to thrive: the interconnectedness of all living systems provides collective resilience in the face of our climate crisis. Each newly discovered species serves as an important reminder of the critical role we play in better understanding and preserving these precious ecosystems.”
1.California Academy of Sciences. (2019, December 5). Scientists at the California Academy of Sciences describe 71 new species in 2019. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 10, 2019 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191205155818.htm
And just for fun a smattering of those species we already know.
Bergmann’s rule posits that populations and species of larger sizes are found in colder regions while in warmer regions species are smaller.
A study published yesterday in the Journal Ecology Letters reports that over the pervious four decades there has been, on average, a 2.4 percent decrease in the size of the length of the tarsus bone, a standard marker for bird size, in a sample population of over 70,000 birds from 52 species. The changes in tarsus length were correlated with the increase temperature. The lead authors of the study suggested two explanations for the decrease in body size.
“The first is developmental plasticity, in which individuals that mature in warmer temperatures tend to develop into smaller adults,” Weeks explained. “The second is natural selection, in which smaller birds tend to do better — in survival, reproduction, or both — in warmer temperatures, leading to a shift in the average size of individuals in a population.”
In addition, the study found consistent increases in the wing length of 1.3 percent in 40 of the species. The reason for in increase in wing length is unclear but the authors hypothesized that increasing wing length may represent a compensatory adaptation to maintain migration as reductions in body size have increased the metabolic cost of flight. Like many of the consequences of climate change, the changes measured in bird size, are not perceptible to the naked eye.
There is a good summary of the study here by the Audubon society.
Click any image for slide show.